Senior midfielder Vincenzo D’Onofrio knows the type of season his Jackson boys soccer team is enjoying doesn’t come around very often. He’s part of something special, and a look around his high school gym easily confirms that.
“In our gym, we have plaques for every year we have won (championships),” D’Onofrio said. “The only plaque we have is from 2005 when we won Wesco. People will ask when the last time we won, and we’ll say 2005. This is a once-in-a-lifetime year. It’s kind of crazy.”
What’s crazy is not only the wins Jackson is piling up, but the sheer dominating style in which those wins have come.
The Timberwolves (13-0-1, 11-0-1 Wesco 4A), who own a 51-4 goals-scored-to-goals-allowed ratio, clinched their first conference title in 14 years Friday with an 8-0 win over Cascade.
Jackson High School and the surrounding area always has been a soccer hotbed, thanks in part to a large club soccer presence. But that hasn’t translated to much success for the Timberwolves’ program for the better part of the past decade.
Wins are coming now, and it’s been a product of a lot of skill perfectly aligning with the arrival of a new coach with a winning pedigree.
“I’d definitely say (coach) Sarah (Smart) has been a big part of it,” Timberwolves defender Mikey Hatcher said when asked what’s behind Jackson’s breakout season. “She’s really helped us come together as team. We’ve really become more of a family and a brotherhood.”
Smart, who has led the Jackson girls team to multiple state tournaments, brought a winning attitude to the program and found unique ways to maximize her players’ skills and keep them focused on their ultimate goal.
“I think having a new coach brings an enthusiasm,” Smart said. “They have a fresh perspective. They are embracing the ideals of brotherhood and family. Family loves each other and works hard and supports each other. That’s what I’ve been stressing. We want to put the enjoyment in soccer, and obviously scoring (50)-plus goals in (14) games is enjoyable.”
And Smart doesn’t lack confidence. Since day one she’s been talking about the postseason, even though Jackson hasn’t made the state tournament since 2011. She’s constantly motivating her group, painting the picture of a state berth.
If the team gets complacent by racking up 5-0 and 4-0 wins, she has ways of humbling the group.
“She’s like, ‘I’ve coached the (Jackson) girls team so many years and we’ve won stuff. Why are you guys celebrating? You haven’t won anything thing,’” D’Onofrio said. “She says (the girls team) would beat us. It makes us hungry to win.”
Smart said she’s been blessed to inherit a talented roster. While this is her first year as head coach, she’s been on staff since this year’s batch of seniors were freshmen.
She has seen tremendous growth and has taken advantage of Jackson’s depth and versatility.
“We have 18 good players that can all play everywhere.” Smart said. “We have a lot of players who have been shining who have been waiting to shine. If you see us play, we can score a lot. If we want to be in control, we will be in control of a game. We have the talent pool.”
Jackson has won with strong all-around play, but Smart said her team is attacking in nature.
Jacob Williams leads the team with 12 goals. He’s followed by Kevin Giessler (11), Adan Fernandez (nine) and D’Onofrio (six). Perhaps what best illustrates the Timberwolves’ attack, though, are their assist numbers. Jackson’s 49 assists on 51 goals show how well the T-wolves move and control the ball.
Fernandez has a team-high 10 assists, Giessler has nine and Riley Quarders has six. Fifteen Timberwolves have logged an assist and 11, including goalkeepers Justin Huttinger and Josh Aho, have scored goals.
“We like to keep the ball and just wait for an opening or do a quick counterattack,” D’Onofrio said. “We have a lot of attacking players on the field. We only have three people back, and the rest of the players on the field are trying to score.”
Defensively, Jackson’s backline has been virtually impenetrable.
The defensive combination of Minhyok Kim, Daniel Aminzadeh, Hatcher and keepers Huttinger and Aho has recorded 10 shutouts in 14 games.
“We all work hard for each other,” Hatcher said. “For me, Minhyok and Danny, the back three, we are all super tight and have a good bond. … This is the best season I have experienced at Jackson. It’s kind of amazing to see how far we have come in three and four years.”
While Jackson already has clinched the Wesco 4A title and is positioning itself for a strong postseason run, the team enters foreign territory, not having experienced high-pressure, season-on-the-line moments. For the Timberwolves, Smart’s experience gives the team that one ingredient it’s missing — state experience.
“If every one of our goals goes to plan, we will win state,” Smart said. “That is the mentality I brought with me. Going to state, that is the best experience — staying in a hotel, being with your brothers and having these memories. This team, absolutely, if they continue to play, it’s in their hands.”